Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: Local journalist Mahdieh Amiri speaks of the hardships of practicing journalism in the southern Iranian province of Bushehr. Amiri has been working as a journalist in Bushehr for years. Since 2007, she has been the editor-in-chief of a few local websites, biweekly and quarterly magazines. She is now the editor-in-chief of hamooniran.com website and Ava-ye Dashtestan biweekly.
It’s really hard to be second-class citizen in your own country’17 August 2015
Translated by:Mehrdad Safa
Khabarnegaran.info-Niki Azad: How is life for Iranian journalists after prison? Does their attitude toward their journalism – the profession that put them in jail – change? Are they more conservative than before? Or bolder?
This time Mazdak Ali Nazari shares his experience after prison in an exclusive interview with Khabarnegaran. Though being an arts reporter, Ali Nazari has spent some time in prison for his profession.
Mr Nazari, how long did you spend in prison?
I was held in detention for three months starting November 2009. Later, in the Revolutionary Court, I was sentenced to 40 months of prison. These were two completely different periods of my life. In the first period, I was in solitary confinement and being interrogated every now and then. In the second period, I was transferred to the General Ward of Evin Prison. Frankly, as a journalist I found it a unique experience to explore one of the most mysterious places in the world. Even before I was taken in custody, I used to tell my friends that I like to visit Evin Prison. To be honest, I was very curious about it.
Fortunately, I was pardoned after a year in Evin among many other prisoners. I may sound very tough to call my time in prison “a tour around Evin Prison”, and it is true; because I was released before the prison affected me and my family.
You were a journalist at arts and culture desk, how come you were arrested and became a political prisoner?
I a writer of this generation in this political system and I tolerated all my fellow young citizens tolerated. But the question is how come I was tried like a terrorist for kidnapping an officer and putting up a bus into fire. It has a simple explainatio; I couldn’t stay indifferent towards the aftermath of the controversial presidential election in 2009.
I strongly believe what I wrote about those days was not political at all. I only wrote what I saw. Even the judge of my case told me once: “a few officers broke the law; so what? Why did you write to tell the world about it?” Simply put, the system accepts I wrote the truth; but they did not want me to write them.
In one of your latest post on your blog you wrote that you didn’t believe in miracles and you only believed in yourself. Experiencing the prison, do you still believe so?
Now, I believe in it even more. No one risks their future to go to prison for the sake of media publicity or fame.
Those who are arrested are paying a high price for their believes and ideology. They are harmed financially and they cannot find a job after they’re released. No one hires them even after they serve their terms.
It’s a bit different for political activists. Political figures might receive their salary while they are in prison and they take pride in being in prison.
So, you find journalists ordinary people who pay high price for their jobs.
This is a confusing question. Journalists are not ordinary people; but they do face needs of an ordinary citizen.
Do you still update your blog?
Only 2 nights before the 2009 presidential election, the “Peace Journalists” website was blocked. I used to write frequently on that website. Occasionally I update my blog too. I might repost my news articles commissioned by other websites. I’d rather focus on some serious topics.
Serious topic, like what kind of topics?
I’m trying to write my memoir and some report about the prison. It left physical and psychological scars on us. Recently I wrote my experience of lashing. It was one of my worst experiences in my entire life.
Did your time in prison affect your perspective towards journalism?
It’s not the only thing that happened. Look, so many major factors like changes in the society, politics and technology have added up to my new perspective towards journalism and affected the way I look and think about journalism.
It affected they way I “hear” the news clearer, I dare to write about prison. Being in prison close to political activists has politicized the way I think and what I think about.
But you left journalism as a career after prison.
Yes, I did. I was a very active journalist before. Having a political prisoner’s background makes it difficult to receive job offers. Magazines are not looking for trouble. I have learned never to expect anything from anyone.
How do you fulfill your life financially and mentally? You are away from your career.
I have been self-employed for a while and been focused on a few research projects; hoping an organization buys the researches from me. Some people suggest I immigrate abroad. It will not be easy to immigrate; on the other hand, doing dish washing kind of job abroad is much better than being humiliated in your own country. ‘It’s really hard to be second-class citizen in your own country’.
Have you written any stories in prison?
Yes. I wrote about my experience and started it from the last days of my freedom before the prison. It was very horrifying to walk to prison and admit myself in. Mr. Mozaffar and Mr. Rajayi from the prison encouraged me to write and Mrs Monirou Ravanipour says I have to write my experiences. Being inexperienced and idealistic is not a good combination.
Had you written any reports or letters from inside the prison?
Yes, I had. I wrote a few open letters addressing the public on the occasion of anniversary of Nasser-al-Din Shah’s assassination by my great grandfather Mirza Reza Kermani. The main message of the letter was that pen empowers weapons.
I studied a lot in prison. I wrote a couple of reports that could send out to be published after insisting a lot to the head of the ward. I made him believe that I had serious financial problems. Poor man, he didn’t know I wasn’t paid much for those articles. I only meant to do something different.
Which magazines published them?
Hamshahri Javan (Young Citizen) and Tapesh Monthly Magazine (Beat). Maybe one is Shargh Newspaper.
Has imprisonment changed your feelings or thoughts about journalism?
We are very young journalists. I find it a good experience that we felt and lived some of the theories and slogans that we only heard about them in books. We understood what it meant when media, the 4th pillar of democracy, is under attack. I can write a book about solidarity confinement, interrogation, and wards. Do you see any difference between Iranian journalism before and after the 2009 events?
Politicization is the main crisis of Iranian journalism. After that, we have to face censorship and also lack of independent media. I cannot criticize Rouhani’s cabinet or Khatami! My own colleague will attack me for such comments. It’s all because of politicization the Iranian media
Khabarnegaran – Niki Azad: He has been put in jail three times for his journalist writing, though he says that jail has not made him feel disappointed with the profession of journalism.
Khabarnegaran.info – Niki Azad: While most countries have strict laws against publishing photos of children in the media, Iran almost lacks any legislation over the issue.